Sunday, August 2, 2009

'Not in My Backyard' Won't Work for Climate Change

By Dave Rochlin - Originally posted on

I was on the beach last week, and watched a fellow beach-goer finish a cigarette, dig a small hole in the sand, and bury the butt. Presto, it was gone! As most of us know, cigarette butts are not biodegradable, so that solution was temporary, and just made the pain of that butt someone else's problem.

Hiding a problem does not make it go away, and for the environment, out of sight out of mind just won't cut it. This can be especially problematic when we try to raise the bar by doing things locally. For example, one of the California CBS affiliates recently reported that "California's recycling rules are so strict that we send our electronic waste across state borders. CBS 5 Investigates found a huge pile of glass from California's TVs and monitors in Arizona, a pile that environmental experts said contained potential environmental hazards...The pile consisted of thousands of pounds of glass, broken-up screens from California's supposedly recycled TVs and monitors."

It doesn't matter if you ban certain chemicals, or require local factories to use green energy or offset, if you turn around and buy goods from somewhere else that lacks these rules. The 'emerging' world economies (where much of our food and other goods are produced) are poised to pass the 'developed' world in emissions in the next decade, and in many cases the environmental bar is set lower. Even in the US, the carbon impact of a product can vary greatly depending on where it was made.

Conscientious consumers are figuring this out. More and more, we're asking for information and labels to make informed purchases. As a result, more companies are offering extra nutrition, recycling, organic, and fair trade labeling, with carbon labeling on the horizon. We can't vote in other states or countries, but we do get to vote with our wallet every day. When we do, we have the opportunity to enforce greener, cleaner practices wherever products are produced.

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